Why does the winter weather cause so many people to develop dry skin? Even thinking about it can make skin itch. Frigid air, drying indoor heat and relentless winds take precious moisture out of your complexion and give nothing back in return. At other times of the year, when there is more humidity in the air, skin doesn’t have to work so hard to retain its healthy, radiant appearance. But everything changes when the temperature drops; substances in skin that would normally keep water content normalized are depleted, and the skin’s lipid (oil/emollient) capacity isn’t enough to provide protection.
Healthy skin can be pictured as a multi-layer cake covered by a single sheet of clear plastic food wrap to keep it fresh. The plastic food wrap prevents the layers underneath from drying out through evaporation. The outermost layer of your skin (called the stratum corneum) acts a lot like plastic wrap (and is actually about the same thickness). The result is dry, uncomfortable, itchy and sometimes even cracked or sore skin. (Source: University of Iowa, Virtual Hospital, www.vh.org/adult/patient/dermatology/winterskin/.)
Making matters worse, there is a lot of confusion about how to care for dry skin. For example, using soaps or drying cleansers, taking long baths or hot showers, or over-scrubbing skin with loofahs or too-abrasive scrubs can create, not prevent more skin woes.
Follow these simple tips to keep your complexion looking smooth and flake-free.
Apply sunscreen: Daylight — even dim, obscure daylight — can cause damage to your skin, which means it slowly becomes less and less able to hold moisture or feel smooth. Not to mention that even in the winter, sun exposure can cause cancer.
Pay attention to your moisturizers: Your moisturizer should be filled to the brim with antioxidants, water-binding agents and anti-inflammatory ingredients. Dove Essentials, Clinique and Neutrogena have some of the best, most reasonably priced options.
Apply and reapply moisturizer: There’s no such thing as applying too much, so when your skin starts feeling dry, put on more. Be diligent about reapplying moisturizer every time you wash your hands, and don’t forget to keep a moisturizer in your purse, at your desk and by every sink in your home.
Avoid soap — use only gentle cleansers: This cannot be stressed enough. Never use a cleanser that is harsher on your skin than the weather outside, and that includes from the neck down. You can’t scour away dry skin, so skip the scrubs.
Avoid soaking in the bathtub or Jacuzzi, or taking long showers: As wonderful as a leisurely bath or shower feels, too much hot water is bad for skin. Inundating skin with water breaks down the substances that keep skin cells intact. Keep showers or baths short.
Dry skin gently after taking a quick bath or shower (remember, the shorter the better): Do not rub or be overly aggressive with your towel. This will only break down skin and result in more dryness.
After bathing or showering, apply a moisturizer as soon as you can: Skin is more vulnerable after it is clean (all that water and even gentle cleansers can remove essential substances that keep skin soft and smooth), so putting on a moisturizer right away will help keep any moisture on the skin’s surface from escaping into the environment.
Get a humidifier: Low humidity is the cause of most weather-related dry skin, whether it is in a winter or a desert environment. Humidifiers are relatively inexpensive, last a long time and work for the whole family. If you have a large home, you may need two or three humidifiers to gain benefit. Remember to clean it frequently.
Avoid putting oils in your bath water: Bath oils encourage you to soak for longer periods of time in the tub, which you want to avoid. They can also make the tub area slippery and dangerous. It is best to apply them when you get out of the bath or shower.
Exfoliate: While scrubbing is discouraged, gently exfoliating can sometimes benefit your complexion. A well-formulated AHA or BHA exfoliant can aid in cell turnover. Helping skin to turn over the top layer and replace it with newer, smoother cells is a great way to prevent dryness.
Use olive oil: At night, after you’ve applied your moisturizer, massage a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil into stubborn dry areas. Olive oil is not only incredibly emollient (and it will be absorbed if you don’t use too much), it is also rich in antioxidants.
Don’t forget your lips: Lips are the least capable of staying smooth and soft when the air becomes dry. They lack the lipids and cell structure the rest of the face has and, as a result, are far more vulnerable to the effects of dry air. During the day and night be sure to put an emollient gloss or balm on your lips. Be sure it doesn’t contain any irritating ingredients — peppermint and menthol can cause irritation, which can make matters worse.